High School Sports

Cary closes in on automatic playoff spot, beats Middle Creek boys basketball

Cary’s Donte Tatum (23) drives through Middle Creek's Yorik Sands (5) during the Middle Creek Mustangs and the Cary Imps boys basketball game in Cary on Tuesday, February 10, 2015. Cary won 66-53.
Cary’s Donte Tatum (23) drives through Middle Creek's Yorik Sands (5) during the Middle Creek Mustangs and the Cary Imps boys basketball game in Cary on Tuesday, February 10, 2015. Cary won 66-53. newsobserver.com

Cary boys basketball coach Allan Gustafson, a history teacher by day, leaves a small part of his classroom’s dry eraseboard for figuring out playoff scenarios.

He has each team that’s still in contention for a playoff spot with their games left.

Now he’s got a little less to sort out.

Cary defeated Middle Creek 66-53 on Tuesday night, putting the Imps in pretty good position for a home playoff spot while knocking the Mustangs out of a chance for an automatic berth.

Putting up numbers: Gustafson calls his two star players “fire and ice” and on this night “fire” Donte Tatum burned hot and “ice” Cory Gensler was cold-blooded.

Gensler had 32 points and 14 rebounds while Tatum had 27 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

“I don’t have any more adjectives to describe (Gensler). You saw the way he played in the first half (with 21 points), that’s just the way he’s been playing lately. He’s been unguardable,” Gustafson said. “Donte made some incredible athletic plays as he’s been able to do.”

The rest of Cary’s lineup had just seven points.

Middle Creek’s Sheldon Eberhardt had 31 points in the losing effort.

What worked: Cary (16-6, 8-5) controlled the defensive boards and turned them into transition points.

“It was all about defense. Our intensity was really good. Other than letting Shelden hit some shots we were pretty much able to hold them defensively,” Gensler said.

Needs improvement: Middle Creek (12-11, 7-6) missed early shots inside and then took – and missed – a number of jumpers.

“That just played right into their hands,” Mustangs coach David Kushner said. “Then Cary got some run-outs and then they went on a 16-0 run to end the first quarter and they had all the momentum. Playing at home in front of a good crowd, it was a recipe for disaster after that.”

Feeling the impact: Middle Creek can still force a three-way tie for fourth, but there are only three automatic playoff spots. A win Friday against Fuquay-Varina is crucial to getting into the postseason as a wild-card.

Looking ahead: Cary needs to beat winless Athens Drive on Friday and keep close watch of what happens with Green Hope-Panther Creek and Apex-Holly Springs games.

Cary should hope that Apex beats Holly Springs, because a Golden Hawks win would force a three-way tie for second with whoever wins the Panther Creek-Green Hope game. The possible head-to-head-to-head tiebreakers would leave either Green Hope second, Holly Springs third and Cary fourth; or Panther Creek second, Cary third and Holly Springs fourth.

Green Hope would take a straight head-to-head tiebreaker over Cary, because the Falcons swept the Imps.

Panther Creek and Cary split head-to-head, so Cary would get the higher seed for the conference tournament before the tournament’s results would determine which team finishes second or third for the state playoffs.

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